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Back again: Mooney dominates Steubenville, returns to title game

November 30, 2013
By LOU CALI JR. - Tribune Chronicle correspondent ( , Underthelights

CANTON - One week ago Cardinal Mooney got off to a dubious start, spotting Cleveland Benedictine a 14-0 lead before settling down and advancing to the Division IV state semifinals with a 28-21 victory.

Friday night the Cardinals again began the game in embarrassing fashion. As they entered Fawcett Stadium just before kickoff, they lined up, as is customary, along their sideline and faced the flag in anticipation of the Star Spangled Banner.

Only one problem: the anthem had already been played.

Article Photos

For the Tribune Chronicle / Michael Taylor
Cardinal Mooney’s Joey Kleeh, right, recovers a fumble Friday against Steubenville during a Division IV state semifinal in Canton. Also pictured is Mooney’s Jack Reider, left, Mooney won, 37-7.

That was the only time Mooney was behind the entire night and it was one of the few glaring mistakes it made. The Cardinals built up a 14-0 lead in the first quarter and disposed of Steubenville 37-7 to advance to their 12th state final.

Cardinal Mooney (10-4) will seek its ninth championship next week when it faces Clinton-Massie. The Falcons (13-1) came from behind to defeat top-ranked and previously unbeaten Kenton, 21-20.

From the opening kickoff (returned 48 yards by Cardinal Mooney's Mark Handel) Big Red was in trouble. Six plays after Handel's kickoff quarterback Jon Saadey scored from 1 yard out to put the Cardinals in front 7-0.

"We gave up the return on the opening kickoff and then we gave up a couple of big plays," said Steubenville coach Reno Saccoccia, whose team ended the season with a 9-5 record. "I did a very, very poor job of having them ready. It's the coaches' job to get their minds in the right place and I didn't do a good job of that."

The lead doubled later in the quarter when Handel picked off a Mandela Lawrence-Burke pass and ran 39 yards for a score.

"I didn't actually think he was going to throw it because there was nobody open," Handel said. "It ended up coming my way and I was able to run it in the end zone."

Any thoughts of a Steubenville comeback were thwarted time and time again by a Mooney defense that may have played its best game of the year. The Cardinals pressured Lawrence-Burke and backup quarterback Dimitri Collaros all night and limited Big Red to 74 yards on 32 rushes. Steubenville averaged 3 yards per play.

"The first thing coming in is that we wanted to make sure we were sound (defensively)," said Cardinal Mooney coach P.J. Fecko. "You have to make sure you have everything covered, they're going to take advantage of any guy out of position or any weakness you have. The second part was how much pressure we could get. We figured if we were where we needed to be to stop the run our guys could get pressure and they were able to do so."

Junior linebacker Jordan Jones, who led the Cardinals with 8.5 tackles and 2.5 sacks, felt he may have broken his left hand sometime in the fourth quarter but assured Handel he would not miss the championship game.

"Oh, I'm playing," Jones said before adding, "The linebackers and I, we all love to blitz. It fell into place today. We just came to play."

Cardinal Mooney pushed its lead to 20-0 by intermission thanks to Zak Kennedy field goals of 38 and 43 yards. Kennedy added another 38-yarder in the fourth quarter.

Saadey threw the ball 11 times in the first half, completing seven for 93 yards. Mooney, which has had just two coaches in more than half a century, has never been known as a passing team and many said legendary coach Don Bucci had a disdain for attempting field goals.

"Whatever it takes," Fecko said. "It's been that way all year; we look at our sets and see what's out there and how hard somebody's playing the run. We have a kid with the ability to throw it out there and keeping people off balance and it's been successful."

The Cardinals pushed the lead to 27-0 midway through the third quarter when tailback C.J. Amill scored from 10 yards out. Steubenville's lone score came later in that quarter on sophomore Johnnie Blue's 7-yard run.

"This is one of our better games (defensively) this year," said senior safety Joe Kleeh, who had a sack and a tackle for a loss. "Almost had that shutout but we gave up that one touchdown. Other than that we played great as a unit."

Mooney outgained Big Red 243-156. Amill finished with 82 rushing yards and caught three passes for 26 yards. Saadey finished 9 of 17 for 100 yards and had two rushing touchdowns. Blue led Steubenville with 69 yards on 14 carries.